A CELEBRATED Hampshire restaurant has launched a massive compensation claim after blaming Southampton port bosses for its closure.
The company says it was owed more than a year’s rent, leaving it with no alternative but to take possession of the waterfront property.
But the restaurant is blaming ABP, claiming the “incredible stench” caused by leaking sewage drove customers away – leaving it unable to pay rent.
Fantini’s says effluent escaping from faulty pipes and collecting beneath the floor cost the business £400,000 in lost trade in one year alone as well as contaminating Southampton Water.
The restaurant is seeking “hundreds of thousands” from ABP for loss of income and loss of reputation – plus the potential cost of relocating the business.
It follows a lengthy investigation by experts hired by Fantini’s, formerly La Margherita, to explore the issues surrounding the closure of the popular eatery.
Documents seen by the Echo state that blocked and defective pipework, coupled with poor maintenance, resulted in sewage escaping beneath the main bar. They also claim it was the landlord’s responsibility to resolve the issue.
According to the restaurant, the equipment was below the floor and thus outside the area covered by the lease.
A Fantini’s spokesman said: “ABP were fully aware of the problem and just ignored it, arguing it was not in the ‘demised’ area.
“The rent stopped being paid due to the fact that customers were being driven away from the restaurant because of the smell, which became tremendous as time went on.”
“ABP were fully aware it must be a serious problem, particularly leading up to the summer of 2014.
“The restaurant is still empty and will not re-open at that location for a number of reasons, including loss of trust in the landlord and the damage the unjust closure has caused to the business’s reputation.”
In an e-mail sent to ABP in 2015 the restaurant said sewage leaks were causing “an incredible stench that can’t be tolerated”.
It added: “You recently installed an independent pumping station with high-level alarm system that obviously has not resolved the problem.”
Citing the “significant loss of business” suffered by the restaurant the e-mail said comments people were making about the stink were “quite embarrassing”.
One of the reports commissioned by Fantini’s was written by Richard Rhodes of RS Design and Technology Ltd, who examined a unit that collected waste from the kitchen and toilets.
His report says would-be customers who arrived during his visit walked out because of the smell. The report adds: “It is very evident that this unit is in a poor state of repair and has had little attention paid to it by way of cleaning or maintenance.”
“I witnessed members of the public entering the premises to obtain drinks but turning away due to the smell of sewage. This is a most distressing situation.”
Southampton council confirmed an environmental health officer visited Fantini’s on July 12 last year to investigate reports of leaking sewage.
A council spokesman added: “We were able to establish that sewage was overflowing into Southampton Water. It appears that the sump under the restaurant, which should have flowed into the main sewer, was not operating properly.
“The premises were not affected. Sinks, WCs and wash basins were all flowing normally and there was no foul water incident within the premises. We therefore had no reason to take any enforcement action in relation to the premises.”
“We did contact the Environment Agency to advise them of this pollution incident. The officer also contacted Associated British Ports, who leased the premises to the restaurant owner.”
An Environment Agency spokesman added: “We received a report of suspected sewage pollution at Town Quay last August. ABP were contacted and a problem with the sewage disposal system at this property was identified. This was rectified by the landlords/property management company. We have not received any further reports of pollution.”
The family-owned restaurant was named after the late Franco Fantini, who was one of the city’s best-known restaurateurs.
Franco is credited as the man who brought the true taste of Italy to Southampton after opening his first restaurant in the city in the early 1970s.
Over the decades that followed Franco turned La Margherita into a local institution, first at Commercial Road and then at Town Quay. His customers included celebrities such as The Two Ronnies and Dame Shirley Bassey.
In 2015 the restaurant received a facelift and changed its name to Fantini’s in tribute to its founder.
An ABP spokesperson said: “We are owed in excess of one year of rent, leaving us no option but to terminate the lease.
“The tenant has made a claim against ABP in relation to the drainage system at the premises and has threatened court proceedings which ABP fully intend to defend.
“As this matter is subject to potential litigation, ABP is unable to go into further details at this time.”